Sunday, January 24, 2010

Biathlons: Skiing + Shooting = Big Fun

Ah, the biathlon. Growing up, I'd always see it on the Winter Olympics and found the combination of skiing and shooting intriguing, if not a bit odd. I always thought it'd be fun to try, and since I've really been getting into Nordic skiing lately I was keeping my eyes open for opportunities. And then I found the perfect one.

The Southern Maine Biathlon Club teamed up with the Bethel Nordic Ski Center to host a clinic on the sport followed by a low-key race. It's geared at folks like me who are looking to give the sport a try for the first time.

First off, the SMBC and Bethel Nordic folks did a great job hosting the event. Everyone was very friendly and they created a fun and encouraging atmosphere that was perfect. We spent the first two hours going over rules and safety, but mostly target shooting using high powered pellet guns designed for biathlons (in the Olympics they use .22s).

In our event, we'd ski a 2.2 km loop three times. In between each loop, we'd shoot five targets that were about 50 feet (???) away. These targets were small, roughly the size of a silver dollar. You know if you hit one because it turns from black to white (so satisfying when you see that happen). For each one you miss, you ski a penalty lap around 150m long.

I was doing pretty mediocre in the shooting practice, going either 2 or 3 out of 5 each time. Combined with the huffing and puffing I'd be doing coming in from each lap, I was preparing myself to do quite a few penalty laps.

The Race
I am not a good skier, and don't pretend to be one. I'm new to skate skiing and have only done it around ten times now, if that. Knowing I'm still in a major learning phase, I was quite realistic in knowing I would probably finish towards the back of the pack, especially when it was obvious everyone in the group was much more experienced than I was. I was of course more than fine with this. I just wanted to have fun and learn a new sport.

Lap One:
So, we lined up, and I took a spot behind everyone else (around 15 of us total). We were off, and in the double-pole zone I let the others get ahead so I could skate comfortably with nobody in my immediate vicinity. Right past said zone was a short downhill, followed by a short uphill. By the time I reached the top of the uphill, the rest of the group was already pulling away.

But three people were behind me at this point, so that was good. Granted, two of them were on classic skis and the other guy was elderly, but hey, so be it. After a little over a kilometer out, the loop begins to make it's way back. There were a few semi-long straightaways with nobody in sight in front of me. Damn... I am slow!

Shooting Round One:
I got in prone position (we'd do prone for both times) and aimed at the first target. I fired and missed. Dang. One penalty lap. Took a breath, exhaled, and aimed for the second and hit it. Then hit the third. The fourth. And then the fifth. Sweet! Just one penalty lap.

Lap Two:
As I began the second lap, it became apparent that some of the others did not shoot as well since I could see three people ahead of me, two of which were only about 50 feet away. I knew I wouldn't catch them, not unless they were really tired. Apparently they weren't really tired, as they began to pull away.

Shooting Round Two:
Dropped to prone position again. Two breaths, hold on the exhale, fire. Hit the first target. Repeat and hit the second, third, and fourth. Then, right after the fourth shot, the gun misfired! Crap! I either hit the trigger or the side lever and it went off, wasting my fifth and final shot. I was in a zone, and certain I would have went five for five, but oh well. Just one penalty lap, so still not bad.

Third and final lap:
Another skier was wrapping up multiple penalty laps, allowing me to be nearly even with him starting the third and final loop. However, just like the other skiers before, he slowly pulled away. At least I had him in sight the whole time though. The finish line was at the end of an uphill, and by then I was quite wiped out. Crossed it with a smile on my face. That was tough, but a lot of fun.

Post Race
According to the Garmin, I skied 7.1 km total and I believe my official finishing time was 37:30. The top guys were about ten minutes faster than that. I believe I ended up finishing fourth from last out of around 15 folks. Again, about what I expected. It was a good eye opener in that I have a LOT of room for improvement in my skiing. But I really had a blast and hope to do it again soon. Very fun sport, and extremely challenging.

Looking forward to a rest day tomorrow. I feel I've earned it given the past two exhausting days.


Sparkplug said...

Awesome! That's some pretty good shooting! And glad the skiing went well too :-)

Jan Mueller said...

Love that post! Well done! Biathlon is so huge in Central Europe, you won't believe it, unless you see it yourself. The best atheletes from Norway, Germany, Austria, Sweden, France and Russia are like Rock-Stars over here. The biggest WC events have more than 100.000 spectators live at the tracks and millions of fans following on TV. Can't wait for the Olympics :-)

Continue with cool blogs like that - regards from Finland, Janne

Thomas said...

Always fun to try something new, eh?

sn0m8n said...

So psyched you went up and gave that a whirl. Very, very cool.

I sure hope they announced the double pole zone.

vja said...

Great job, Jamie! How hard is it too quiet down for the shooting? Sounds like you managed just fine!

Jamie said...

Danielle and Ryan - Thanks!

Thomas - Most definitely. That's what life is all about!

Jan - I've been studying the videos on YouTube and have seen what you described! Huge crowds, and they really get into it. Can't wait for the Olympics also! Gut feeling says Germany will take the gold. :-)

Val - That was hard, but if one thing went right in the race is that I felt I had pretty good control over that. But maybe I just got lucky. :-)

mindy said...

Beyond cool!! So psyched that you did this!

JenRunner said...

Great attitude to jump into races without feeling you have to be great or even really good at the sport. When I have done that, much like your experience, I find I really surprise myself...I am either a lot better than I thought or I just have a blast. World Cup biathlon was on TV this weekend as well....totally engrossing sport to watch. There is an American that is doing really well...leading World Cup standings...can't recall his name but he lives in Germany and is engaged to a German gal so go figure!

Jamie said...

Mindy - you're next!

Jen - thanks a bunch! What channel was it on? Too bad the sport isn't as big here as it in parts of Europe.